Steven Barrett

Lord Sumption was right to quit the Supreme Court

Spectator TV

There used to be a saying: ‘never discuss religion or politics’. That was just a societal rule, a prudent tip for an enjoyable evening. But that principle is also in our constitution. This is a fact recognised by the Supreme Court — and particularly by Lord Sumption — earlier this year. Sharing your political opinions is, for some people, a breach of constitutional obligations.

The UK is odd, some think, in having the constitution that we do. Far younger states with bright and shiny constitutions, written in single documents, seem to look down on our frumpy older version. But if we are playing constitutional top trumps, the UK scores near the top — longevity, democracy, universality, rule of law and (perhaps most crucially) fewest own citizens murdered by the state.

Some critics of our constitution say it’s unwritten. This is just wrong. It is mostly written but it is not written in one place. Our constitution uses the same principle of defence as the internet. The internet was, in part, a response to the threat of nuclear war: if all your communications are in one place and your enemy nukes it, you have an issue. So you must spread the net so wide that no one can shut it down.

The Supreme Court is leading the nation in repairing the constitution

Our constitution has evolved in a very similar way. Ideas and rules of the constitution are not in one document or one place for good reason. This fractured constitution, with a bit of it here, a bit there and a good slice left up the second chimney in Westminster Hall, has protected it and us all from any nuclear strike. And we lawyers have been left free to focus on stuff that helps the economy, generates jobs and pays taxes (my kind of law).

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.


Unlock more articles



Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in